Ideas have flooded from all corners on how to improve the game, but the all-star gathering afforded players a unique platform to add their voices. The Washington Post polled more than a dozen all-stars Monday afternoon with a simple question: If you were in charge of the league for one day, what would you change?
The answers revealed a distaste for shifts, a desire for greater promotion, varying stances on the designated hitter and, in perhaps the most player-centric view, ceasing 4 p.m. start times. Some responses were thoughtful, some were to the point, and one was downright silly. “I would make baseball hockey,” Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer said, “because hockey is awesome.”
Despite Bauer’s detailed plan to trade bats for sticks, that won’t happen. Bauer’s teammate, two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, provided perhaps the most strident response, a challenge to the handful of organizations who tanked this season to rebuild, save money and accrue high draft picks — the strategy the Houston Astros employed for years before winning the World Series last season.
“I’d say find a way to make sure every team is competing,” Kluber said. “People don’t want to pay money to watch a team that’s not trying.”
Some players looked toward on-field play, specifically defensive shifts teams have employed to steal hits. High-profile agent Scott Boras has labeled shifts “discriminatory” toward left-handed hitters, and Commissioner Rob Manfred has hinted at internal discussions about somehow banning or limiting shifts.
“Because I’m a hitter, I would say the shift,” Oakland Athletics infielder Jed Lowrie said. “Realistically, I look at the infielders being in the outfield. You hit a line drive that’s going to be a one-hopper to the right fielder, that should be a hit.”
“I think fans want offense, so I think the shift — they should just go back to regular,” Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout said.
The league has also considered the future of the designated hitter, with the discussion centered on adding it to the National League. Former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander had a different take.
“I would take the designated hitter out,” Verlander said. “I know we’re talking about the National League implementing the designated hitter. But for my pitching purposes, it’d be fun to face guys like me that can’t hit. I do think, for instance, last year in the World Series, when the Houston Astros are playing the Dodgers, when we were at Dodger Stadium, we were a little behind. We’re not used to hitting, bunting. When you’re playing a championship to determine the best team in the world, it should be an even playing field. It’s the only sport like that, where it’s a different set of rules for different leagues.”
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto specifically said he wouldn’t change the DH, saying he enjoyed how the different styles mix during interleague play. In fact, he wouldn’t change anything. He believes the high strikeout totals draining action from the sport will naturally decrease.
“I appreciate the game as it is,” Votto said. “As we all know in life, change is a part of the process. Almost for sure that’ll change. At some point strikeouts will go down and the game will get faster. That’s just the natural flow of ball. It’s just cyclical.”
The question of what baseball should change prompted surprising vitriol regarding start times. Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, admittedly for the sake of convenience less than improving the game, said he would make every getaway day a 1 p.m. start. Players, hitters especially, despise odd-hour start times. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said he would ban all game times around 4 p.m., when shadows creep across the infield and pitches are difficult to identify.
“Baseball is not fun when everybody is striking out and nobody can see the baseball,” Kemp said. “We’ve played a lot of those this year.”
Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis took Kemp’s plan a step further. He would make every game start at either 1 p.m. or 7 p.m., without exception. He believes television has prompted varying start times to the detriment of quality of play, because players have a harder time getting into rhythm and performing at their best.
“It’s a little ridiculous, the game times these days,” Markakis said. “It’s hard to get into routines when you’ve got constant changes of game times. That’s probably one of the biggest things that bothers me.
“You’re not getting well rested. Shadows — nobody knows what it’s like to stand in the batter’s box when you can’t see a 95-mph fastball. It kind of irritates me a little bit. From a safety standpoint, too, when it’s 4 p.m. and you’ve got shadows, it’s dangerous.”
Another common response regarded the way MLB markets its players. While MLB sometimes faces resistance from players who perform in a star-suppressing clubhouse culture, many believe it should do more to showcase its players.
“We should promote players more,” Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon said. “That’s more important than necessarily trying to change the rules so there’s less shifting. I want to see more players selling Wheaties, more players have online content of behind-the-scenes stuff they do in their free time, stuff like that.”
“I would probably change the outlook on how people think we don’t have fun and whatnot, the marketing,” Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts said. “We have a bunch of good guys, a bunch of personalities that need to be seen. They should be. It’s certainly something that can be done.”
If players just think they need more of themselves in the public eye, maybe the game isn’t in such bad shape. Boston closer Craig Kimbrel and Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman declined to give an answer. Indians outfielder Michael Brantley gave an even more forceful endorsement of a game most everyone else thinks is in trouble.
“I wouldn’t do nothing,” Brantley said. “Keep it just the way it is.”